Welcome to an on-going series of interviews with the people behind the technologies in Social Business. The interviews provide insightful points of view from a customer, industry, and vendor perspective. A full list of interviewees can be found here.
Eugene Lee – CEO, SocialText
Eugene Lee is the Chief Executive Officer and member of the Board of Directors at Socialtext. Lee oversees day-to-day management and operational control over all aspects of Socialtext’s business, including driving product direction and development, strategic alliances, and scaling the sales, marketing and support organizations globally.
Lee comes to Socialtext from Adobe Systems, where he led Adobe’s enterprise marketing and vertical market segments. Previously, he held several executive leadership roles at Cisco Systems, ranging from Vice President (VP) Worldwide Small/Medium Business Marketing to VP Worldwide Enterprise Marketing. Lee also held key management positions at Banyan Systems, including General Manager for the messaging business unit. He was co-founder of Beyond Inc., developers of the award-winning BeyondMail product, and holds four patents in messaging, workflow and privacy technologies. Lee has a B.A. in Physics and B.S. in Engineering and Computer Science from Harvard College and an MBA from M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.
1. Tell me in two minutes or less why social computing is changing the world for your customers.
Eugene Lee (EL): As consumers, we take it for granted that technologies like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to connect with an old friend we haven’t seen in 20 years or share a blog post with thousands of people from our hotel room half way around the world.
But despite this amazing evolution in the way we share and communicate information, many companies – with billions of dollars in resources – haven’t delivered these same benefits to their employees. And this is why Socialtext has a business: We provide companies with technologies that mirror the look and feel of what their employees enjoy in their consumer lives, and it’s changing the world for our customers in terms of how work gets done inside their organizations.
Knowing that this would be a question, I actually shared it inside Socialtext with our private customer community. John Atherton, the chief knowledge officer at GT Nexus (a supply chain logistics firm) came back with this answer, and I think it speaks for itself:
Real-time collaborative information sharing platforms, that are enabled by systems like Socialtext, are speeding knowledge creation and dissemination. By making information available immediately, corporate employees across the globe can now – like never before – search, access, review and consume relevant data to help make them more efficient.
Gone are the days of tacit knowledge trapped in people’s heads, locked up in local PCs and hidden in point-to-point emails. Instead, information moves to an explicit form at the very instant it’s created – it becomes immediately consumable. Imagine a place where every employee is a contributing knowledge citizen; they all donate to the pool of ideas. It can be accomplished by easy-to-use content creation tools. All employees, from St Louis to Shanghai to Stuttgart, instantly become participants in corporate evolution.
This is how enterprises improve turn-times on customer service issues. It’s how they empower sales personnel with up-to-date field information. It’s how the challenges of expansive geographies and revolving time zones get flattened, get obliterated. Corporate leaders must ask themselves: is it true that they are competing not only on the products and services they sell, but also on their organization’s ability to learn, evolve and compete at a rapid pace?
I don’t think I can say it better. So I won’t try.
2. What Makes Social Computing Disruptive?
(EL): Social computing is disruptive because it encourages transparency and sharing as a means to transform a business. It taps the collective wisdom of an entire business; not just those in the boardroom.
Now, this isn’t to say enterprise social networking is making the corporate org chart going away – and people who tell you that are too caught up in the hype. What enterprise social networking does do is empower people to enhance and extend business processes on the fly – and that is very disruptive for companies any way you slice it. Companies – and their technology – were designed to execute and uphold a certain set of business processes. Unfortunately, business conditions change so quickly — overnight in many cases — that these processes won’t work the next day. By letting people either change these processes themselves, or easily suggest modifications to people who have the power to change them, a company can respond faster to change and serve customers more efficiently. The ability to consume, modify and share information on enterprise social networking platforms facilitates this in a way that was never possible before in the past.
One other macro way that Social Computing is disruptive is that for the first time we are putting PEOPLE at the center of the experience, and not the technology. Traditional enterprise applications have been built around an object – be it a customer (CRM), a SKU (ERP) or an employee (HRM) – and the data structures, processes/workflows, and transactions (form-centric screens) surrounding it. These multi-billion dollar industries have enabled companies to remove huge costs by standardizing processes, and essentially taking people OUT of the equation. I’ve had a rant running for years about how I believe business is conducted by people, not by users – and now we finally have a software category that is organized around that principle.
3. What is the next big thing in social business software?
(EL): I think a big focus will be around task management within the context of collaborative environments. To be candid, one drawback to highly collaborative workplaces is that some people can get involved in too many projects. This is especially true for those high value employees who just have so much expertise and intellect – For these folks, a different co-worker or department is always asking for a piece of their time.
This challenge is exacerbated by the information overload we all experience both in our consumer lives and inside businesses. At Socialtext, we’ve worked hard to make sure you can share and view information with as wide – or narrow – a group as you like to help mitigate this problem.
But what we’ve been working on a lot is helping the individual understand where he or she stands on a bunch of different projects and work tasks within the context of a collaborative environment. Now, this can be tricky because we know from the way we disrupted the software market that imposing too much structure (like icky project management software) won’t work. So we’re exploring ways to follow task completion in the lightweight, unstructured world of enterprise social networking.
4. What are you doing that’s disruptive for social computing?
(EL): I think we’re being disruptive by being mature and non-revolutionary.
Sounds counterintuitive, right?
What I mean by that is we’re focused on helping customers solve problems; not slinging a bunch of social technology rhetoric and noise, or saying that you need to change the entire way you work in order to benefit from these new social tools.
There’s so much hype in the world of social technologies that keeping a big-picture, pragmatic view of the world makes you the odd man out in some situations. Remember when Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New Yorker piece, saying the “Revolution Won’t be Tweeted”? Honestly, I loved that article. Of course, every consultant and industry insider who calls themselves “social media experts” freaked out because someone had the audacity to call out people in this space who get overly exuberant.
At Socialtext, we know social networking technologies are vital for businesses, but we’re not so myopic as to think people are going to throw away all their old systems and processes. In fact, if they did, it would just be bad business. So if you look at our strategy in the market, you won’t see a “join us or die!” or “this is the new way you must work” type of nonsense. Instead, we integrate closely with a company’s existing investments. This has become a huge competitive advantage for us.
5. Where do you see technology convergence with Social?
(EL): The first part of my answer – mobility – is best described by telling you a story about one of our customers.
Right after the iPad came out – and I mean literally like a two to three weeks after – my support team got a call from one our customers: Industrial Mold & Machine. You’ve probably never heard of them, but they’re a manufacturer of moldings – like for a plastic cup or sled. The message we received was a little frantic, but essentially said, “Socialtext just broke on our iPad, and we can’t work!”
You see, Industrial Mold had initially implemented Socialtext to help facilitate better collaboration between the workers on the shop floor and the desk workers up in the office. They were using Socialtext Signals – which is our version of a private Twitter for the enterprise – to communicate more openly about business processes. They were also using wiki pages to share things like engineering specs.
Well, as soon as the iPad came out, our main IT champion at Industrial Mold ran at the opportunity. He bought of bunch of them. For a shop floor worker, walking around with a laptop was untenable, so the iPad made tons of sense. In a week’s time, he had armed the shop floor staff with iPad, and they were engaging with Socialtext even more aggressively because it was just easier for them on iPads.
Well, like many companies in Silicon Valley, we knew the iPad was coming, but we hadn’t aggressively moved to support it yet – it was only on the market for a few weeks! Needless to say, that changed rather quickly. The hardware evolution that is tablet computing is already having profound effects on social computing, and it was pretty cool that a little molding company in Ohio woke us up to that.
Meanwhile, on the more technical end of things, I’ve been talking for awhile about how enterprise social networking needs to be a layer, not a feature, inside businesses. What do I mean by that? Well, Salesforce.com and other business applications have been getting the “social is sexy” fever and adding social features to their software. The problem is, that’s going to create more silos inside a company because you’ll have social networks attached to each departmental application. All of the sudden, you’ll have a social network for your sales team, another for your product team, and another for your finance team. And wait a minute…Wasn’t the point of enterprise social networking to help eliminate silos that exist between people and information? We believe enterprise social networking needs to be one unified layer that incorporates relevant information from all these systems, and that’s been our strategy out in the market.
Finally, we’re also seeing enterprise social networking converge with the traditional corporate intranet, and that’s creating a huge opportunity for us and our customers. For years now, most corporate intranets have been static and devoid of any human element. By bringing people — and the tools they work from — to the forefront of the corporate intranet, it’s actually becoming a place where work gets done inside companies. The American Hospital Association and Getty Images — two Socialtext customers — have seen 95 percent-plus adoption rates of Socialtext, and we believe it’s in large part due to their “make our intranet social” focus.
6. If you weren’t focused on social computing, what other disruptive technology would you have focused on?
(EL): I think mobile computing. As a consumer, you could call me an iPhone casualty. I have pages and pages of the coolest apps on my phone, and when a new version of the iPhone comes out, I’m instantly jealous of my friends who have it. I love checking into a restaurant on Foursquare, and instantly having a drink or food special teed up to me. I get so many GroupOns that I have a terrible habit of not cashing them all in. When I’m in San Francisco for meetings, I dial up cabs on Taxi Magic. I’m a huge music fan – playing piano and chamber music is a passionate hobby of mine – and I love using Shazam to learn the name of a song I like.
Social computing obviously plays a big role the mobile disruption, so I think that would be a natural fit for me.
7. What’s your favorite science fiction gadget of all time?
(EL): The teleporter in Star Trek. Technology’s improvement in getting people from here to there has been frustratingly unable to scale in any way proportional to the rest of our lives. As much as this in some way creates the need for collaboration tools to help distributed work, on the other hand there are so many places and people in the world I haven’t yet been able to see, meet, explore, and learn from.
Additional interviews will be added and updated! To be considered for the series, please reach out to Elaine (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com.
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